Fall Poetry Events

This week, I’m taking a brief pause from posting horror movie recommendations to share some upcoming poetry events that I’m partaking in with other writes. Check them out if you’re so inclined! One in particular is a special Halloween-themed reading.

Monday, October 21 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Lower Macnungie Library Coffee House

Reading and craft talk with Robb Fillman, David Bauman, Eric Chiles, and I.

Open mic to follow

Lower Macungie Library, 3450 Brookside Rd., Macungie, PA

Image may contain: 5 people, including David J. Bauman and Robb Fillman, beard and text

Tuesday, October 29 7-9 p.m.

Poems at the Pub

I will be the featured reader. An open mic will follow. Costumes are encouraged!

Dugan’s Pub, 385 Main Street, Luzerne, PA

Check out the FB event page for more details.

Saturday, November 16 7-9 p.m.

Writer’s Showcase at the Olde Brick Theater

I will be co-hosting this event with Dawn Leas. Featured readers include Dan Pape, Marcie Herman Riebe, Brianna Schunk, Chris Eibach, Tara Lynn Marta, and Robb Fillman.

126 W. Market Street, Scranton, PA

Halloween Streaming Season (Pt 2)

As promised, I’m going to offer my recommendations for horror movies that I think you should watch this Halloween season. Last week, I focused on Shudder. This week, I’m offering my Netflix recommendations. Once again, I’m going to stick to films that I think are deserving of more attention. After all, most of you have seen Halloween or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre dozens of times.

Apostle: This feature, directed by Gareth Evans, is not for the squeamish. Set in 1905, the story follows Thomas Richardson’s (Dan Stevens) journey to a remote island to save his sister from a religious cult. There is gore galore and serious folk-horror vibes in this, a-la the original Wicker Man.

 

Cam: This was one of Netflix’s best horror additions last year. In short, it follows a cam girl (Madeline Brewer) who suddenly realizes that she has a doppelganger willing to be as extreme as necessary to generate more viewers. From there, things get weird…. and weirder.

The Autopsy of Jane Doe: Before he directed Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, André Øvredal directed this feature, a 2016 flick about a corpse who may or may not have been a witch and is left in the hands of father and son Tommy (Brian Cox) and Austin (Emile Hirsch). This film is heavy on atmosphere, and the scares build and build the more that the duo learn about the young woman and her history. Watch this now if you haven’t yet.

 

Gerald’s Game: Mike Flanagan is one of the best American horror directors working in the business, and Gerald’s Game is a solid adaptation of Stephen King’s novel about a wife, Jessie (Carla Cugino), who is left handcuffed to a bed after her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) has a heart attack. Left for days, Jessie starts to have bizarre and creepy hallucinations

The Blackcoat’s Daughter: Oz Perkins is another director to keep an eye on. This movie is a lot of things- part haunted house story, part possession story. In short, it’s about two girls, Joan (Emma Roberts) and Kat (Kiernan Shipka), who are left alone at their boarding school over winter break and have to battle an evil force. It’s a slow burn, one heavy on mood and bleak tones.

 

TV worth binging: Everyone knows about Mike Flanagan’s “The Haunting of Hill House” from last year, but I can’t recommend enough the 8-part French series “Marianne.” It deals far more with abject horror and it has some scenes just as horrifying as the bent-neck lady in episode 5 of “Hill House.” “Marianne” is one of the most underrated series released on Netflix this year.

Time to Cue Up the Horror Flicks

Happy October! It’s that time of year when everyone is looking for that one good horror recommendation. First, let me state that if you want some solid suggestions, check out Horror Homeroom or Signal Horizon any day of the week for some of the best insight on contemporary horror.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll offer some suggestions for the major streaming networks. I will keep each list fairly short and try to offer recommendations beyond the usual mainstream fare. First up, I’m focusing on Shudder, the all-horror streaming network owned by AMC and also available through Amazon Prime.

Shudder

One Cut of the Dead (2019/Directed by Shinichiro Ueda) This Japanese flick is one of the most creative films available anywhere. Even offering too much of a description will give too much away. That said, it rewrites everything you think you know about the zombie narrative, and the closing minutes are one big kiss to independent film-making. It also begins with a 36-minute long continuous shot. Stream this now!

Tigers Are Not Afraid (2019/Directed by Issa Lopez) This Spanish film is beautiful, heartbreaking, and terrifying in its depiction of gang violence in Mexico. The child actors are simply phenomenal, and the fairy tale-like quality is reminiscent of early Guillermo del Toro. This is a must watch and will probably end up on several best-of lists at the end of the year.

Body Bags (1993/Directed by John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Larry Sulkis) This is  a rare anthology featuring three separate stories loaded with celebrity cameos, including Sam Raimi, Wes Craven, Tom Arnold, and John Carpenter as a wise-cracking mortician. Shudder is most likely the only place you’ll be able to watch this, so check it out while you can. It’s a fun horror comedy perfect for this time of year.

Incident in a Ghostland (2018/Directed by Pascal Laugier) This French film by the director of Martyrs is imperfect, especially in its portrayal of trans people, which, in this case, happens to be a one-dimensional central villain. While Incident in a Ghostland may not be as haunting or horrific as Martyrs, it still has a lot to say about trauma and fractured memory. The plot is simple: a mother and her two daughters suffer a terrifying home invasion during the first night in their new home. That story-line, coupled with the visuals, make this a must-watch. Laugier is one of the most interesting directors working in the genre right now.

The Old Dark House (1932/Directed by James Whale) When it comes to Universal’s first golden age in the 1930s, The Old Dark House is sometimes lost in the conversation. Everyone talks about Dracula, Frankenstein, Bride of Frankenstein, and the Universal Monsters in general, but this is one of my favorite films from that era. Whale’s direction here is stellar in creating a creaky old house that travelers stumble upon. Then, they encounter a family with dangerous secrets. There is plenty of subtext to unpack here, and as usual, Karloff is phenomenal. Between Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, Whale created another horror masterpiece.

Other contemporary films to stream: Satan’s Slaves, The Witch in the Window, Terrified (a must see, one of the best of 2018), The Taking of Deborah Logan (Odd, creepy, unsettling, unique for the found footage genre), Hell House, LCC.

Classics to stream: Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, Zombi, The Changeling, Deep Red, Hellraiser, Re-Animator, Phantasm, Henry, Black Christmas

TV shows to stream:

  • “Creepshow” Yes, the reboot is really that good! A new episode will air every Thursday through Halloween. Horror lovers shouldn’t miss this.
  • “Dead Wax” This is such a creative Shudder original about a record that kills people. Hopefully, it gets a second season.
  • “Channel Zero” This four-season series based on Creepy Pasta stories initially aired on the Syfy network  and was cancelled way too soon. The final season drops this month on Shudder.
  • “NOS4A2” A worthy adaptation of Joe Hill’s bestselling novel.

 

Up next, I’ll offer recommendations for HULU. Stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

Review: 3 from Hell

3 From Hell

Did Rob Zombie’s The Devil’s Rejects really need a sequel, especially after the memorable anti-heroes were sprayed with bullets to the tune of “Free Bird?” The short answer is no, but here we are, more than 10 years later, and Baby Firefly (Sheri Moon Zombie), Captain Spaulding (Sid Haig), and Otis Firefly (Bill Moseley) are back to inflict their warped sense of humor and sadism upon a new batch of victims. This time around, they’re joined by Winslow Foxworth Coltrane (Richard Brake), a relative of the Firefly family who also relishes in dishing out pain because, well, why not? As pointless as this sequel may be on paper, it’s fun to hang out with the Firefly clan again, especially during the first half of the film. Say what you want about Zombie, but he’s consistently pushing the boundaries of horror and offering a bloody, abject contrast to most of the mainstream fare out there.

The film begins with several shots of Baby, Spaulding, and Otis coming to and from jail, talking to the press when they can. Since the events of The Devil’s Rejects, they’ve amassed quite a number of fans that are convinced the trio is innocent. Otis’ hair is so long and his brow so furrowed during these sequences that he’s not hard to mistake for Charles Manson, or perhaps a warped inversion of Christ. Baby, meanwhile, blows kisses towards the camera and flashes a peace sign, which endears her to whatever post-60s hippies still exist during the film’s 1970s opening. These early sequences are about the only commentary the film has to offer, namely exploring why we’re  so entranced with serial killers, be it Manson or Ted Bundy. Here, Zombie uses the camera to hold a mirror up to society and our fascination with the macabre.

The Devil’s Rejects is such an interesting film because Zombie makes you root for the bad guys. Here, it’s Baby who really breaks out. Simply put, Sheri Moon shines, be it when she’s clenching a knife, twirling around the room, or laughing manically. She’s menacing, devious, playful, kitten-like, and crazy, often within the same scene. The first chunk of the film deals with her time in prison, after Otis breaks out and devises a plan to free her. Left alone, she suffers abuse at the hands of Greta, a security guard played by horror icon Dee Wallace. When Baby finally gets her revenge on Greta, it’s hard not to root for the kill, especially after witnessing the abuse unleashed upon the only female of the Firefly clan, including an attempted rape scene orchestrated by Greta.

The first half of the movie is solid, as the Firefly family checks off each name responsible for their imprisonment. The conversation among the clan, which features plenty of film references, including everything from Humphrey Bogart to Lon Chaney, is generally interesting and well-written. It humanizes the characters, while making us wonder why we’re rooting for such a malevolent bunch yet again.

3 From Hell

Winslow (Richard Blake), Baby (Sheri Moon Zombie), Otis (Bill Moseley)

The second half of the movie often feels rudderless as the gang escapes to Mexico, only to be tracked by a mob related to a victim they killed early in the film. Here, there is no real character development, but rather kill, after kill, after kill. Sure, the excessive gore is stylish in typical Rob Zombie fashion, and the ending is about as violent as anything Zombie has filmed thus far, but one gets a sense that the director didn’t know what else to do with these characters. That’s a real shame. The first half of the movie was so engaging that I didn’t even care about the absurd explanation for the clan’s initial survival after The Devil’s Rejects. I can’t say the same about the last hour or so of the film. Once the group busts out of prison and satiates their thirst for revenge, there’s simply not much for them to do.

That said, 3 from Hell is worth viewing simply for Sheri Moon’s performance. She  outperforms her counterparts, and it made me wish the film just focused on her. She’s just as devious and often times bolder than the men. Additionally, 3 from Hell is worth viewing just for Sid Haig’s (RIP) final performance as the memorable and terrifying Captain Spaulding. Though his waning health limited his role, it’s worth it just to see him in the grease paint one last time.

Initially, the film was only going to be released during a 3-night run last week, but since it grossed nearly $2 million, it’s returning to theaters for one more night on Oct. 14. Check it out while you can. Zombie is playing with familiar characters here, while still mimicking the 70s grind-house  films he grew up with. 3 from Hell is worth the price, at the very least to hang with the Firefly clan one more time. Who knew that serial killers could make playing cards or discussing old films so interesting.

IT: Chapter 2 Drags Amid Some Solid Scares and Strong Performances

Image result for it chapter 2

2017’s It: Chapter 1 is the highest grossest horror film of all time, raking in $700 million globally at the box office. Already, there are rumblings that Chapter 2, also directed by Andy Muschietti, is going to smash box office records and surpass the $123 million opening weekend that its predecessor had. Chapter 1 resonated primarily because of the story-line of the Losers, a group of misfits and outcasts who come together to battle not only bullies but Pennywise the Clown (Bill Skarsgård), an ancient, cosmic entity who feeds upon human fear. Chapter 2’s greatest strength is the continuation of that story-line, when the Losers return to Derry, Maine to defeat Pennywise 27 years later, after children start disappearing. When the adult cast is together, the film soars. At a near three-hour running time, however, there are moments when the film feels bogged down by meandering side adventures and a CGI fest, especially during the prolonged finale.

The film’s opening 15 minutes are as powerful as Chapter 1’s beginning when poor Georgie (Jackson Robert Scott) is sucked into a sewer by Pennywise. Without giving much away, I will simply state that the opening  sets one of the main themes of Chapter 2: bigotry is alive and well and the only way to confront it is by banning together, hence why a grown-up Mike (Isaiah Mustafa), the only Loser who still lives in Derry, calls his scattered childhood friends and urges them to come home to confront Pennywise one last time. The initial reunion of the Losers (Jessica Chastain as Beverly, James McAvoy as Bill, Bill Hader as foul-mouthed Richie, Jay Ryan as Ben, and James Ransone as Eddie), is one of the film’s strongest scenes, especially as they go around the table ribbing each other, while clinking beer glasses and toasting to the Losers. The casting is perfect and each of the adult performers give it their all. In fact, I venture to say they’re as likeable as the kid actors in Chapter 1.

Image result for it chapter 2

The Losers as adults

After the reunion, the film sprawls out into several side adventures, focusing on each individual Loser, as they attempt to recover an “artifact” that pertains to their childhood and a traumatic encounter they had with Pennywise, who fed on their deepest insecurity. Some of these side stories are scarier than others, and, at times, I wish that Pennywise was on the screen more. In fact, I wish that Skarsgård had more to do in the film in general. Too many scenes feature CGI zombies instead of the clown. For the most part, the film is faithful to the second half of Stephen King’s novel, but sometimes what works on the page doesn’t work as well in film, especially the flashbacks featuring de-aged child actors. Weird. That said, there are some great scares, especially the Paul Bunyan scene from the novel and a scene involving Pennywise, a little girl, and a ballpark at dusk. This particular scene reminded me of  the monster’s encounter with Georgie and how terrifying Skarsgård can be just in the make-up, tricking children and luring them to a grisly death. I wish there was more of that and less CGI.

It’s clear throughout the film that if the Losers are separated, they’re in greater danger. It could be said that the film drags the most when they’re dispersed, wandering around Derry. When they’re united, going toe to toe with Pennywise, or joking around, the film hits some of its highest emotional notes. Out of all the cast, Hader especially steals the show. He’s as funny as his childhood counterpart Finn Wolfhard in Chapter 1. He also has some of the greatest character development that takes Richie way beyond the one-liners.

There’s no doubt that It: Chapter 2 is going to bring in the big bucks this weekend. Pennywise is now as iconic as Freddy Kreuger, Jason Voorhees, and Michael Myers. It’s just a shame he wasn’t given more screen time, especially more one on one scenes with the children of Derry or the grown-up Losers. He’s far more terrifying as a human-sized clown than a CGI spider. That said, when Chapter 2 has the right beats, namely when the Losers are on screen together, the film is quite arresting. Adapting a 1,000 page novel loaded with surreal imagery about an ancient, evil presence was never going to be an easy task. Chapter 2 would have benefited from a little less fidelity and firmer editing. If trimmed more, it could have been as strong as Chapter 1.

Make sure to look out for the fun cameo by Stephen King and one of the original Losers.

Overall grade: B

Ready or Not: A Bloody Good Time That Has Fun at the Expense of the 1 Percent

With Labor Day weekend here and summer winding down, several of horror’s heavy hitters will be released in theaters soon, most notably It Chapter 2 and The Lighthouse, director Robert Eggers’ follow-up to The Witch. That said, there’s another film in theaters now deserving of attention, Ready or Not,a gory blend of comedy and horror that lampoons the one percent while creating a memorable final girl in the process.

The story opens just as Samara Weaving’s Grace marries into the family from hell, the Le Domas clan. This is a family that adheres to absurd traditions, including a card game that’s played each time one of the family members marries. Grace picks the Hide and Seek card and asks, “Are we really going to play this?” To her, the game is childish and silly, but the clan isn’t about to break tradition. Grace soon learns that the game doesn’t involve merely hiding in elevator shafts or closets. The clan has to maim her and then sacrifice her in a ritual before dawn, or else, they all die. This is part a deal made years ago with the satantic figure Mr. Le Bail, whose portrait still hangs on the wall. The premise sounds absurd, and on paper it is, but under the direction of Matt Bettinelli-Olpina and Tyler Gillet, and with a smart script penned by Guy Busick and Ryan Murphy, the film works surprisingly well.

Samara Weaving holds a gun, wearing a wedding dress, in the movie Ready or Not.

Samara Weaving as Grace

Grace is an incredibly likeable character. We see the world through her eyes, including the family’s swanky, multi-room mansion. Even when she escapes the maze-like home and dashes across lawn after lawn, seeking an exit from the property, we’re left wondering how much land the clan owns and who in their right mind needs so much acreage. She also has several of the best lines and reactions in the film, especially her simple, yet forceful  remark “Fucking rich people!” in the closing minutes. It’s clear that Grace, who wears Chuck Taylors with her wedding gown, is never going to be a Le Domas, no matter who she marries. Furthermore, the family is so bumbling that she’s better off.

(L to R) Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, Nicky Guadagni, Adam  Brody, and Elyse Levesque in the film READY OR NOT. Photo by Eric Zachanowich. © 2019 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved

The Le Domas clan

This is another strength of the movie. Typically, hunters/the wealthy are depicted as skillful and cunning, but not in this case. In the opening 20 minutes, one of the family members shoots another in the face with a shotgun. Even the Satanic ritual in the closing minutes is foolish and over the top. Generally, the film mocks the elite  while building up Grace as an every woman that earns cheers and sympathy. In an interview with Vanity Fair, Gillet said that one of the film’s intentions is to play with the class rage that’s been brewing over the last several years. “There are a lot of people who feel like they’re helpless, and that they want change, but they don’t know how to be part of it. There are a lot of people that just want to fucking scream right now. There’s a lot of rage, and a lot of anger, and a lot of fear.” This idea is underscored in several scenes. For example, at one point, Grace makes it to the open road just outside of the family’s sprawling property. When a driver sees her, he zooms by in his sports car, even as she flails her arms and wails for help. “What is it with rich people?” she asks.

As the film progresses, Grace endures one trial after the other, until her grown is bloodied and shredded. At times, the directors zoom in on her body as a nail goes through her hand or a fence’s spear tears her skin. These scenes are not for the squeamish, but they certainly make the audience root for Grace and feel her pain. Additionally, Ready or Not’s final minutes are the perfect blend of humor and horror that is threaded so carefully throughout the movie. It’s utterly satisfying.

Ready or Not is one of 2019’s best horror films. It’s smart, bloody, and funny, buoyed by a stellar and unique final girl. Grace’s frustration and role as an outsider is relatable, and her simmering rage at the  1 percent is utterly justified.